Miami Wrap Up

Sorry I missed a weekend there. My third weekend got derailed by a wicked head cold. Despite that  I still got out and did a couple of things.

The temperatures finally caught up with the me and broke 100.  Of course that’s also the weekend I planned some serious outdoor activities.  First on my list was the Zoo. It’s definitely a kid friendly place with lots for little people to do.  Several of the exhibits were great. I liked the amazon exhibit and the Asian aviary was nicely laid out too.  I was a bit disappointed in the Aussie exhibit though as I was hoping say hello to some old friends.  Coworkers warned about the lack of shade and wow were they right. I zigzagged my way from patch to patch and still felt like I got burned. Despite the head, some of the animals were pretty active so I got some good shots.

Fighting the head cold, I decided to visit the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Gardens. The grounds were lovely but I left my memory card at home (sad trombone) so the only pics I got were from my cellphone. The gardens are great. I highly recommend the tram ride. It’s included in the ticket price and is easy way to see where you want to walk around the gardens later. A WPA project from the depression, I wanted a bit more history about the design and building of the grounds but there wasn’t any.

The heat was bad and with my head killing me, I limited my visit to the orchid section and the butterfly house.  The kaleidoscope  of butterflies (really the term!) in the house was amazing.  There were so many Blue Morphos that I just wanted to sit down and let them swarm all over me.  I figured sneezing all over them was probably bad so I exited quickly.

My last weekend was spent running an ultra relay from Key Largo to Key West. Team Lucky 1101 consisted of six of us from work ran who the last 100 miles of US1 in roughly 3 mile stretches.  A coworker had to bail at the last minute so I stepped up and gave it my best.  It was hot (heat index of 100+), no breeze, and very little shade.  We finished in just under 18 hours which was great because it meant we did it in one day. I took a couple of pics at the various tiny islands we stopped on but didn’t bring my camera.  A wise decision since we were a bit cramped in the car. I had a great time and would consider doing it again if I’m ever back this way.

Pictures here as usual That pretty much wraps up my time here. Looking forward to being home.

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Miami Weekend 2

Same as the last post photos can be found here.  Scroll past the updates from last time. Sorry for the lack of pictures. I’m working on it.

The weekend stared early this time; A Thursday night baseball game watching the Fish play the Diamondbacks.  I was thoroughly impressed by Marlin’s Stadium.  It was clean, the food was pretty good, and well laid out.  The clean might have been helped that it was empty.  I know the Marlins’ aren’t great this year but to see a stadium that empty is kind of sad. I guess I shouldn’t complain since I got great seats cheap but I’m always a little sad when the stadiums are that empty. As an aside, there was a huge bobble head display in the stadium which had both the original racing presidents but my baseball hero, Rollie Fingers.  Need to get one of those.

For Saturday I made it down to Everglades National Park.  I highly recommend stopping at “Robert is Here” for a smoothie along the way. My strawberry mango was amazing. Also, make sure you have gas. There isn’t in any in the park and Flamingo (the far end) is ~30-45 min one way in.  The park is full of little short hikes at very specific spots due to the marshy and unpredictable nature of the terrain.  I feel guilty but I enjoyed Kakadu more.  It probably has to do with the excellent company I had but Kakadu felt more organized and accessible than the Everglades.  I didn’t get a chance to take boat tour but I did get to see lots of wildlife which was nice.

Sunday was back to Miami beach for breakfast and a walk around the west side of the island.  If you’re in the area, Yardbird is worth the trip.  I didn’t get the chicken and waffles but will the next time I go back (totally worth a second trip).  After a nice stroll through some of the residential areas, I headed up to the St. Bernard de Clairvaux Church.  A cloistered monastery from 12th century Spain, it was moved whole sale to Florida and then taken over by the Episcopal church and serves as a parish today.  The building is amazing although small when compared to modern churches. They even have some of the original heraldic devices  in the walls. Strangely, this felt more appropriate than did Vizcaya. There was a service on going so I couldn’t get pictures of the sanctuary.   If you’re in the area (Coconut Grove is not) it’s worth the visit.

Again, pictures are here. We’ll see what next weekend holds.  Half way through my trip. Looking forward to getting back to DC.

Miami Weekend 1

 

Note: Google is being stupid and not letting embed my photos.  Go here to see photos from this weekend and the rest of the trip

I’m on travel to Miami for a month.  It’s hard to get used to living out of a suitcase and in a hotel for that long but I’m trying to make the best of it.  Officially I’m here to work but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to go exploring and see the city.   Because it’s the first weekend, I wanted to stay local so I started at the Villa Vizcaya. The villa is an interesting place.  It reminded me of Citizen Kane in the bizarre transplantation of old world French/Italian culture into the swamps of Florida.  There are no photographs allowed in the house but every room is completely decorated as in works inspired by or taken from late 18th and early 19th century Europe. I found the ground particularly odd;  Romanesque statues and mangrove trees aren’t usually seen together.  Still the grounds were nice to walk about in and are definitely a popular spot for wedding and other official photography type things.

Of course once you’re in Miami everyone wants to know when you’re going to Miami Beach.  Home to art deco hotels, clubs, and tons of people, it’s a huge hub of activity in town. For me, the hotels are the main draw. I love art deco design, particularly architecture and prints, and there is no better place to see it.  Except for all those people and clubs. The afternoon was unusually hazy compared to the morning which washed out a lot of the colors. I’ll be going back early some morning to try and avoid the crowds and get some better lighting.

I’ll try to keep posting about my weekends or anything that is of note. More pictures here.

Farewell to Oz

Well, they say all good things must come to an end. After three wonderful years, our Australian adventure is finally at a close. With Drew already back in the States for months, it was finally time for Ashley to say goodbye. It was hard to move away from a place that really felt like home. Our fabulous friends took good care of Ashley in Drew’s absence, and they went above and beyond to send her off in style. There was time for one last holiday, so Ashley headed off for tropical Cairns.

With two days left, Ashley had to see one last Australian icon – the Great Barrier Reef. The trip to the outer reef took over an hour, but it was well worth it. Ashley picked up snorkeling gear and headed out to see what all the hype was about. She also grabbed an underwater camera, although the pictures don’t do the reef justice.

Parrotfish were among the most colorful residents of the reef, but there were hundreds of other fish too. Ashley found Nemo peeking out of an anemone, and was surrounded by a school of black and white damselfish at one point. Probably the most exciting find was a sea turtle sedately wandering by.

After a great day in the sun, it was time to go hide in the rain forest. Cairns is famous as “where the rain forest meets the reef”. Ashley took the Skyrail gondola up to the town of Kuranda.

Once at the top, it was off to the butterfly house and to feed some very cheeky parrots and parakeets.

One more night in Sydney and two long flights later, and Ashley made it back to DC to see Drew and Sophie again! More pictures from the Reef and Kuranda are at the links. Australia, it’s been awesome and we’re going to miss you. The blog will be quiet for a while, but expect the adventures to resume in the DC area!

One Last Vacation for the Road

After two and a half years, our Australian adventure has begun to wind down. Drew is leaving and Ashley only has a few months left. Prior to his departing east for west and south for north, we enjoyed a final weekend in Sydney. Unlike our first trip, which was plagued with jet lag, sleeplessness, and confusion about this strange place, we had a great time enjoying the city. We continued to find great places to eat and explored places we had never been.

Our Friday stared with a lovely run through the Royal Botanic Gardens.  It’s hard to believe that 9 months ago we joined the masses running through here as part of the Sydney Half Marathon. The park is one of our favorites and no trip to Sydney is complete without at least one visit. From there we visited the Sea Life Aquarium. It’s the sister aquarium to the one in Melbourne, but we liked this one better.  Ashley was immediately delighted by the platypus exhibit.  Everyone’s favorite monotremes were on display and actively playing.

From there we made our way through tanks containing more of her favorite animals (penguins and octopodes). Unbeknownst to us, the facility is also home to two dugongs.  We got to watch them playing with their food and generally being silly. We also signed up for a short glass bottomed boat tour of the reef tank.  It was much better than expected. The keeper was chatty and we got to feed the fish.  We even had a white tipped reef shark circling our boat. Our favorite fact is that to keep the parrot fish happy, they cover popcorn with fiberglass and drop it into the exhibit for them to munch on. Apparently that’s an acceptable substitute for real coral.

On Saturday we walked from Bondi Beach to Coogee.  The walk is just over 6km and is full of great views and little beaches. We particularly loved all the little lap pools right against the ocean.  It’s easy to see why everyone who lives in the area loves the beach.  As a reward for the walk, we had some delicious fish’n’chips before returning to the city for a relaxing afternoon.  We wanted to make sure we were well rested for the opera.

We’re not huge opera fans, never having seen one, but decided the chance to see any performance in the Opera House was too good to miss. We saw a production of Puccini’s Turandot (pronounced with the ‘t’).  The costuming and choreography were wonderful, but it definitely wasn’t opera for beginners. The subtitles helped but the conventions of operatic signing still made things difficult. Still, it was a great evening capped off by drinks at our favorite bar.

Sunday was destined to be a long day, as it was Drew’s last day in Oz and with Ashley for a while. We made the best of it though.  A great brekkie and walk through the The Rocks Market was a good start.  We had planned to watch an old French film at an arthouse but found a Lego exhibit instead. It was hosted by one of Australia’s master builders and he was present to talk about the huge objects he’d built.

The pieces were amazing and full of great little details. Drew and Ashley also got pictures with Lego Movie stars.  Lucy was especially obliging.  Ashley built a great rainbow mustache in the free play area, but the lighting made pictures difficult.


It looks like this will be the end of the road for our shared Australian adventures. Ashley will have to pick up the slack for Drew and see what else she can find on this side of the world.  More pictures are here, and Drew will probably follow up with a post about leaving later.

Barossa Valley

We’ve slipped out of Alice for a nice long weekend in Adelaide and the surrounding region.  Our first day was spent driving through the Barossa Valley, which is known for its red wines.  The valley is close enough to Adelaide to make an easy day trip, which allowed us to spend a relaxing morning in our favorite spot in the city: Adelaide Central Market.  Once again we were overwhelmed by the fresh produce, delicious meats and cheeses, and felt a desire never to return to Alice.  We ate a delicious breakfast and picked up some snacks for the road before heading out in search of delicious wines.

The drive into the valley was lovely. It’s fall here, so all of the grape leaves were turning yellow and red. Our first stop was at Schild winery.  We have several bottles of a delicious Grenache, Mourverde, Shiraz blend at home and wanted to see if there was anything else we liked.  Both sparkling wines were good, but as Ashley seemed to be coming down with a cold (and things weren’t tasting right) and Drew was playing Sober Bob, we didn’t spend a lot of time there.

It's a quince!

For lunch we stopped at Maggie Beer’s farm shop.  Maggie Beer is the Australian version of Julia Child or Ina Garten.  She is a proponent of eating locally grown/farmed ingredients. The farm is host to a large number of pheasants which are game birds, for display, and ingredients in the pate which the farm is known for.  We decided to skip the pate and instead had some lovely bread and locally produced olive oil. Oh, and peach crumble for dessert. Everything was excellent, and it was probably the quickest and friendliest service we’ve had in Australia.

We finished off our time by visiting a sculpture garden which had a great view of the valley, and then doing a tasting at the Barossa Brewing Company.  The beers ranged from an overly smoky red ale to a delicious Christmas porter.  While we were tasting, the brew house dog came over and demanded we play fetch. Naturally we agreed.

Our next few days will be spent in the city doing some much needed shopping and probably driving to the Adelaide Hills to drink more beer and eat more delicious food. Extra pictures are here.

 

Riding to Uluru

A good friend of ours is leaving Alice soon.  His encouragement is a big reason I took the plunge and got my motorcycle license, and he and I ride to some of the road houses near town for breakfast occasionally.  Before he left, he had one big item on his bucket list; ride his Harley to Uluru.  As a result, he, I, and several others saddled up on bikes, loaded a couple of support cars with gear and headed out.

The park is 450km (~275 mi) one way from town, which is a long enough ride in a car. The ride is made even more fun by consisting of exactly 4 turns. Most people who ride a motorcycle will tell you the fun part is cornering. Go fast in a straight line is boring. Top speed for the ride was about 110kph (~65mph).  My bike doesn’t go much faster, hell getting there can be a struggle, and a number of the off-road bikes lose traction much above that.  To top if off, sitting on the back of a motorcycle for 6 hours is pretty painful. My street bike (the blue one in the pictures) was so uncomfortable that I tied a piece of foam to the seat.  The result made the bike a bit hard for me to mount but much more comfortable to ride.

Despite all of that, the trip was a blast. We rode in formation down. A massive earth mover nearly forced us off the road. We had a bike breakdown at the half way point, which unfortunately meant that it had to be towed the rest of the way. Another bike got a flat 3/4 the way down, but that one ended up being fixable. Still, everyone that went felt great.  A group of us spent an extra day relaxing in and around the park, and the rest headed home after one night.

Much like our last trip down, Uluru is pretty ordinary until you get close enough to see the caves and crevasses.  Riding around the rock was great because you felt really close to it while still doing 35mph.  Ashley and I spent our free afternoon relaxing and hiking around Kata Juta.  We took advantage of the cool weather to hike further into the valley than last time.

The ride back was a bit slow due to a strong headwind.  We picked the better day as the group before us go stuck in a rain storm. We spent longer a couple of rest stops than we wanted but other then that, the ride was uneventful.

I’ve got the helmet cam video from a friend and am working on a ride video. That should go up here in the near future. Pictures are here.